Existence of Fear Precedes Essence -Desh Subba

Jean Paul Sartre, "Existence precedes essence."

Desh Subba, "Existence of fear precedes essence."

-Desh Subba

The ontological relationship of essence to existence is one of the controversial big topics in philosophical history. What is their right relationship? Is it merely a joke? Or is it a serious challenge in the human quest for truth?  

In my experience, readers mostly don't want to enter into very serious thought of the inner core part of philosophy’s debates, and with essence and existence this is also the case. They usually either comment from a surface reaction or a mocking smile. It is a characteristic of mass general readers to not engage deeper into such queries because they read for the sake of reading itself. After reading, they do nothing. They are free in their choice, duty and responsibility, no pressure to go further because they are independent reader. Few readers have the deeper interest. They might think once about these two sayings above. I hope they will think beyond a mere blind belief of classical existentialism (e.g., Sartre). Erecting beliefs upon the Eifel Tower of Old Existentialism, cannot penetrate unveiling new logic, no, not even hammering with a new logical hammer will be enough. So to see through original existentialism’s beliefs we need to throw provocative light upon the old shadows of Existentialism and philosophy itself.  

I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.

In original existentialism belief (e.g., Jean Paul Sartre) says existence precedes essence. It is a breath of Existentialist or Existentialism via their Land Mark? If existentialists are surviving in the philosophical world; Reason is their trusty Land Mark. But I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.  

Why a Mad Man doesn't precede essence? He is an existence and he has consciousness. Existence of insane is like essence vice versa. In practical terms, Existence doesn't directly precede essence. If we accept it then, why existence of Mad Man doesn't precede essence? 

My conclusion is: Only existence of fear precedes essence. Exploring for food, shelter and practicing a worship of nature was not because of existence, it was because of existence of fear. Existence itself is virtually a senseless entity or state of being. It cannot activate towards essence without motivational drive(s); activation towards essence is made due to fear. Even Mad Man has some sense though he/she cannot precede any essence. We can take another example of an infant. Existence of Infant doesn’t precede essence because their consciousness, sense and knowledge are not ready to explorer essence. Until they don't know themselves whether they are stone or man, how one can precede to essence. Condition of the infant and insane is more or less the same. In their condition existence precedes essence or essence precedes existence; it doesn't make a difference to them.  

Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy.

First existence is like nominal sense. Nominal means in the sense equal to infant and insane.  Nominal sense processes towards more consciousness. Sense, step by step separates into consciousness and knowledge. Many philosophers have worked out how knowledge comes after consciousness(?). Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy. I have given a map of understanding life-consciousness-knowledge-fear as developmental. This knowledge is acquired from sense organs, incident, environment, necessity and conditional reflex in the stage of unconsciousness, semi-consciousness and consciousness accordingly. When it comes to age of knowledge, first stage is fear of existence. Fear of existence changes into existence of fear. Existence of fear precedes essence. Existence of fear means knowledge of fear. Knowledge of fear precedes essence. Thus existence of fear precedes essence not only existence precedes to essence.

Article is edited by R. Michael Fisher


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  • True Subba! Your assertion that existence of fear precedes essence is an offshoot of Sartre’s famous dictum. Fear starts existing along with existence itself as existence itself is insecure and uncertain. Insecurity triggers fear about existence in space and uncertainty in time. Consequently fear of existence ratifies the existence of fear that in turn precedes essence. 

    This conception, in my view, will be able to put forth serious, yet practical explanations for how and why some individuals become of what they aspire for and some not. Sartre clarifies that an individual first exists and then defines through choices and decisions as to what he or she is. Sometimes, an individual is unable to exercise choices and is forced by the circumstances to remain as what he or she has become of. Lack of ability to exercise choices is due to fear itself. If fear is managed well, freedom triumphs and choices are intentional. If not, freedom is still a distant dream and  choices become forced. As Fisher says that there will be fearlessness when fear arises, freedom ought to look for fearlessness so that choices can be decided out of free will and therefore an individual can break open from nothing to usher in something while defining himself or herself.

  • Desh, with his characteristic creative critique based on a philosophy of fearism,  has offered this very intriguing philosophical disruption to any essence-based philosophy (a la Plato, Aristotle etc.). If existentialism (e.g., Sartre) pushed the barriers beyond essence in the nature and order of things (including "humans"), then Subba purports to a view of another extension required beyond existentialism to his fearism and the argument he begins in this blog for "existence of fear precedes essence" as a type of position that could be Subba's own phenomenological-existential (what I would coin as a) fearential referent behind his philosophy, and of which he believes will be useful to humankind in the present and future to help solve our worst problems.

    This fearential referent is very radical historically and within philosophy, and that is what I love about his thinking. It is so unique. I hope he continues to develop this philosophical thesis more rigorously and succinctly and creates more debate around what he is saying. It is one of the most powerful parts of his teaching. Essence and existence are so fundamental to how humans make sense of the world. I believe his philosophy of fearism is a powerful tool that can critique and co-create a better philosophy of fear (e.g., Kalu, Eneyo, Svendsen) than what we have today, and that is just because of all the philosophers of fear so far, Subba steps beyond and out of the narrow-minded thinking of essence-based philosophy, even beyond existential-based philosophy and provokes and invokes with a message that needs to be heard. 

    So to be clear, my quick take on his view of life/reality/truth, philosophically and theologically (if one wants to add this, which Subba is not inclined to do himself)--is that by locating fear as an a priori  (fearential -- like essential, or like existential) referent for reality as lived experience, he is in a way making fear an essence of all things (or, at least of living things)--this, expanded referential move on Subba's part is easily seen in his earlier writing in his 2014 tome Philosophy of Fearism with his unlimited expressions (i.e., definitions, meanings) of Fear in the opening chapter where there are some 21 "definitions" (conceptualizations) of fear. No one has made this kind of radical move, that I know of. It cracks open the narrow-rigid philosophies, theologies, and psychologies that predominate discourse--it peels back layers of ignore-ance and arrogance--it frees the way for fear to take its proper place in history. What a great fear imaginary and treasure he has conceptualized. Subba places fear at the core of existence, making it a kind of essence of all--of everything. One could say this is Subba's own fearological theory of everything--no different in kind is his theory than from any unity-scheming physicist (e.g., Einstein) who might attempt to find a unifying basis for understanding all reality (Reality itself).

    Unless, one really takes this Subbaian move in deeply and integrates it with their own thinking, and transforms their own thinking about fear (i.e., their own fear imaginary), and expands their theories and philosophies, I believe they will miss the core potency of Subba's philosophy and offering to the world.

    It has taken me five years to be able to write this blog right now and be so clear of my view of the importance of Subba's work, his life commitment and project--he is a great philosopher for our times, and a truly unique one that will often (nearly always) be only understood by those who seriously engage his work for a number of years to see its scope and potentiality. This fearential referent comes most clear in this blog he has written: existence of fear precedes essence. No philosophy East or West, North or South has this kind of recognition, realization, and awareness for getting down to the truth--to stripping away the illusions of humankind and its ways of carrying on that lead humans astray--and worse, lead to great suffering. Subba's philosophy of fearism is a liberation philosophy--a theory of everything. I found this quote on "Why Existentialism?" [1] which could easily be applied to "Why Fearism?" (a la Subba): 

    "At no time perhaps more than at the present is it necessary for people to strip away the illusions [i.e., reductionistic fear imaginary] they live by and examine themselves and their motives realistically. With the fragmentation of human experience and the impossibility of finding support in traditional beliefs, the individual inevitably is thrown back upon himself [sic]. Existential [fearential] literature indicates that man cannot escape his self, and that in confronting the very self [i.e., a self/fear unit as fearential referent of existence] he often tries to disguise, he may find a kind of tentative peace [liberation]. The response must come from within; there is no room for deception, no place for the protective mask of illusions [i.e., fear-based disguises/illusions]." 

    Be it a secularist, marxist, existentialist discourse of this kind of confrontation with real reality--or a Subbaian fearism confrontation--I see this is a chain of thinking attempting to unlock human philosophy (and theology) from an essence-based approach [2]. We need to really understand essentialist thinking, then existentialist, and then fearentialist in that order of an unfolding evolution towards the really real--of what Subba (and I) are working on by placing fear as central--not just placing fear as a factor, in the latter case where one builds a (Christian and/or Buddhist doctrinal spiritualized) philosophy of fear or philosophy of love--and just adds in fear as supplementary. Philosophy of fearism is way beyond that kind of move, a move I see in many philosophers today working with fear and working with including some of a philosophy of fearism. Subba's work demands that philosophy itself has to transform--because fear(ism) (a la Subba) is not merely being studied by philosophy as a topic--no, fear(ism) is studying and critiquing philosophy itself. Fear(ism) is reconfiguring the very nature of reality but also of philosophy that tries to know reality, and tries to know truth. For Subba, philosophy has missed the mark to a large degree, and not been as helpful in a full way to humanity's growth and health, because it has not seen through the illusions that go with an essence-based philosophy. Subba's asking us to re-work and re-imagine the very nature and role of philosophy--a philosophy that is post-fearism, is another way to put it. He wants a philosophy based on a fearential referent, and so do I [3]. He, like myself, are no longer interested in essence-based philosophies of abstractions, metaphysics and such that posit that "Love" is the essence of human kind, or the theological-referent for a particular worldview.

    That's just one example, of a critique from a philosophy of fear(ism) that moves to the surface, "Love" is too easily set-in a priori in essence philosophies [4] and thus creates a meta-narrative that may be only partially true, and may be missing the more important component--perhaps, it is fear argues Subba which is core and which is manifest in "existence of fear precedes essence"--and, thus from this new critical standpoint a new philosophy is born(?). Of course, it is very early yet in the development of fearism to know what will be all its fruits in the future. 


    1. From front matter of The Existential Imagination (eds., F. R. Karl & L. Hamalian, 1963, Greenwich, CN: Fawcett Publications, Inc.). 

    2. "In philosophy, essence is the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the entity or substance has contingently, without which the substance can still retain its identity. The concept originates rigorously with Aristotle (although it can also be found in Plato)" [excerpt from Wikipedia]

    3. My own fearlessness philosophy, if that's a referent applicable, works through and with a philosophy of fearism--and, I have variations of significantly different findings at times than Subba's approach. My own philosophy (fearology, as transdisciplinary) tends to much more emphasize a need to reconstruct a new epistemology of fear (and 'fear') than does Subba's work--albeit, he is, more or less, in support of my direction in this regard (e.g., see Fisher, 2016 p. 107, in Fisher & Subba, 2016). Fisher, R. M. (2016). Chapter Four, Towards a Theory of Fearism, in R. M. Fisher & D. Subba, Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.)

    4. I have recently been crafting a critique of the philosophy of fear and philosophy of love in Christian writers (e.g., Kalu, Eneyo) who give great credence to the nature and role of fear but they underplay the existential critique of essence-based philosophies, and take things in somewhat a different direction (especially, Eneyo). For e.g., in Michael Eneyo's (2018), (2019) books, Philosophy of Fear, and Philosophy of Unity [Love], he tends to create a human potential discourse, a spiritualized discourse and teaching where "Love" is central (what I call a "lovist" perspective in contradistinction to a "fearist" perspective as in Subba and my own work) and thus you'll see rare engagement with the term "existentialism" in Eneyo and Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Heidegger etc. are not even mentioned in this two books (a similar short-coming in Osinakachi Akuma Kalu's books on fear and fearology, as well). In Fisher & Subba (2016), if one looks in the Index, there are many pages (entries) on "existential(ism)(ist)" and "existentialists" because we link the philosophy of fearism as a new branch (maybe, a new tree) with roots in existential philosophy and we take that ancestry as important--at least, I certainly do, and Subba's latest blog above shows me why he does find it useful to integrate the best of existentialism in building fearism. I applaud that effort. 


    Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom") is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowled…
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